We base most of our posts on the questions we are often asked on the job.
For example, we are frequently asked questions about comparing window units vs central air conditioning.
However, it is important to note that, in most cases, it isn’t a choice.
Modern central air conditioners require a tremendous amount of space to be installed and operate correctly.
As such, if you live in that 8-story apartment building in Queens, NY (built 30 years before the advent of air conditioning), you might just need a window unit.
In this article, we’ll describe the advantages and disadvantages of each when choosing a central air conditioning vs. a window unit.
Finally, we’ll tackle the basic price points for each.
⭐ Central Air Conditioning vs. AC Window Unit Comparison – The Pros and Cons of Each
In most circumstances, if your home or apartment already has window AC units, then one of two things is probably true:
A) You live in a building that has not been rigged or cannot support central AC components.
B) You live in a colder climate, like my partner’s home province of BC, and use your air conditioner for two weeks out of the year.
⭐ The Pros and Cons of Window vs. Central AC
❄️ Central AC Pros:
✅ Efficiency and Features
A window air conditioner just won’t have the amazing features of central air and won’t be able to provide air filtration to the extent that central air will (vital if you have asthma or bad allergies).
✅ Even Room Temperatures
A window air conditioner will be frosty near the unit. But it might have warm spots on the other side of the room.
That is because it will not circulate the air in your room as efficiently as a central AC unit.
✅ Whole-House Cooling
A central air conditioning system will cool your whole house. In contrast, a window air conditioner will only cool the room it is installed in.
❄️ Central Air Conditioner Cons:
They Are Expensive
Central AC is much more expensive to install and run than window AC units. More on this later.
❌ They Are Expensive to Fix
You could buy a new window air conditioner for the price of an average central AC repair.
❌ They Are Expensive
Did I mention that they are expensive? This is America (‘Merica to some). Cool your whole house, not just the room you’re in… that’s for Europeans (I love Europe…this is a joke).
❄️ Window AC Unit Pros:
✅ They Are Inexpensive
Window air conditioners are much cheaper to buy and operate.
✅ Air Condition the Room You’re In
Window air conditioning units only air condition the room that they are in, so you can have one in the bedroom, one in the main room, and only run the one you need, saving energy.
✅ No Installation Cost
HVAC contractors like us are expensive, and you can’t install a central air conditioner yourself. But you can install a window AC by yourself!
❄️ Window Air Conditioner Cons:
Although window air conditioners are getting better at filtering the air, they can’t compare to a central air conditioner.
So, if you have asthma or allergies, central AC is a far better option for your indoor air quality.
❌ Hot Spots
Window air conditioners don’t circulate the air in your room as efficiently as a central AC unit, so you’ll have freezing and warm spots and just the right spots.
⭐ Choosing a Central AC or Window Unit Probably Isn’t Up to You
Of course, this is a free country… do what you want.
But what I mean is that standard split central air conditioning takes up between 10 and 15 feet of space in your attic or crawl space, and has refrigerant lines, high and low voltage electrical components, and drainage lines all running out from it.
It will also have a condensing unit stationed outside to dissipate the heat collected inside your home.
Conversely, a window AC takes up about a foot and a half of your window.
In fact, this complexity is precisely what allows central air conditioners to gain the efficiency features that window units lack (even though a window AC will generally cost less to run).
But, there is an obvious trade-off… if your home doesn’t have the infrastructure to support these components, you’ll have to add it… and for the hefty price tag of an additional $1,000 – $2,000 if you don’t have them already in your home.
On the contrary, a window AC unit can be placed in almost any room with minimal installation.
Many of them you can even install yourself. So, the question is, is it even possible for you to install a central air conditioner?
❄️ When You Can Install a Split Central AC vs. Window Units
Next, in this central AC vs. window units guide, let’s discuss when you can install a central air system.
The minimum requirements to install a central air conditioning unit are typical as follows:
- At least 24 inches of vertical height in an attic or crawlspace. Or a utility closet.
- 5-10 feet of unobstructed horizontal or vertical space in an attic or crawl space.
- A suitable outdoor location for a 3′ X 3′ condensing unit that meets your local code requirements for placement.
- The ability to run refrigerant lines between the two, typically no more than 15-20 feet away from one another.
- Suitable area for ductwork to be installed.
- Access to high-voltage electrical (220V)…if not, this can usually be installed.
- Access to natural gas or propane for your furnace (you can use a heat pump if you only have electrical).
But Russell! I have none of these things!!! So hold your horses…there’s another option…
❄️ Packaged Central Air Conditioning – The Other Option
You aren’t done with our central air conditioning unit vs. window units guide just because you didn’t meet the requirements for a split AC… so just sit back and relax!
Likewise, you aren’t relegated to the depths of window AC units just because you don’t have room for a split central air conditioner…the geniuses (debatable) of HVAC engineering have another solution: the packaged air conditioner.
Look, there’s nothing wrong with a window AC unit, but just realize that a window AC will never have the power or efficiency of a central air conditioner.
Plus, if someone in your home suffers from asthma or bad allergies, central air conditioning has a variety of HEPA and other custom HVAC filter options that a window AC just won’t have. Food for thought.
Packaged AC units are a type of central air conditioner designed for people like you who want the power and efficiency of a central air conditioner (with the low power of a window AC unit), and want to air condition their entire house but don’t have the room.
They combine all of the AC components we discussed above into one “packaged” AC unit that is about 5′ X 5′ in size and can be installed on your home’s roof.
Here’s the catch, though…the ductwork runs directly out of these units.
So, if you cannot get a duct to the roof (or the side of your home), then it looks like you’ll be purchasing a new window air conditioner from Home Depot…
👍 Pro Tip About Installing Packaged AC Units
Anytime you install a new packaged AC unit, you will probably have to breach your roof.
What this means is that the HVAC technicians will cut a hole about 2 ft by 4 ft to run your plenum (kind of like a manifold for your AC ductwork) through your roof and into your attic (if you don’t understand, it’s okay…translation: they’ll have to cut a hole in your roof).
Of course, they will seal the roof upon completion, but if you are in the market for a new roof anytime soon, do the AC first…then the roofers can come by and seal everything perfectly.
⭐ Choosing a Window AC
Most people are skim-readers, so you probably didn’t read the paragraph above. Sigh.
In this comparison guide, we’ve discussed two important topics that you need to understand:
Choosing a central AC vs. a window unit probably isn’t up to you; it is a result of the layout of your home.
A central air conditioning system will always have more power and additional options that a window AC will not.
So, to be clear, we’ve discussed when it is possible to install a central air conditioner.
Now let’s talk a little bit more about window units.
A window unit is installed when:
- There is no room for a central air conditioner.
- You can’t afford a central air conditioner…or you are cheap.
- If you’re super cheap, then a portable air conditioner might be your only option to find cool air.
We’ve discussed the amount of space required for a central AC unit at length, so let’s focus on the latter.
⭐ Central Air Conditioner vs. Window Unit Cost
Average Window AC Cost: $350
Average Central AC Cost: $5,000
❄️ Window AC Cost
Window air conditioners typically cost around $350 for a decent brand but can be purchased for as little as $159.
Although I wouldn’t recommend going for the “bargain brand” if you can avoid it, I have been down and out at times and just not had the money to get the best of the best.
So, you may have to buy a more modestly priced window AC.
Here are some decently priced window units available from various home improvement stores:
❄️ Central AC Unit Cost
Comparatively, central air conditioners can be on the pricey side, typically running between $5,000 and $8,000, depending on the brand chosen, features, and the layout of your home.
If you add on the furnace (and I assume you want to be warm in the winter), you’re now talking between $7,000 and $10,000. Ouch.
This is because a tremendous amount of infrastructure is required for your central AC unit, including gas lines, high and low-voltage electrical, drainage lines, refrigerant lines, etc.
All of which must be installed, checked, and tuned.
Final Thoughts on Central AC vs. Window Unit
I hope this central air conditioner vs. window unit guide helped set things straight in your mind, albeit brief.
In the end, remember that two things determine whether you have a central air conditioner or a window unit: available space and money.
If it is within your budget, I’d highly recommend you go for the central air conditioner.
I know it’s expensive, but you’ll see where that money went once it’s up and running.